Move would save lives, but administration punts to 2024.
Health organizations panned federal regulators for dragging their feet on a potential ban of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.
Since April 2022, the White House, through the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), has contemplated new rules for tobacco products. Those include adding menthol to give a minty taste to cigarettes and infusing flavors in cigars to appeal to youths and young adults.
On Dec. 6, President Joe Biden’s Statement of Regulatory Priorities for Fiscal Year 2024 included “plans to finalize two rules that prohibit menthol as a characterizing flavor in cigarettes and prohibit all characterizing flavors (other than tobacco) in cigars.”
“These and other potential future regulatory actions would significantly reduce disease and death from combusted tobacco product use, the leading cause of preventable death in the United States,” said the priority list for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
With health effects evident, there is no need for more time to review rules for tobacco products marketed to youths, Black communities, LGBTQ+ communities, and people with limited incomes, according to the American Cancer Society (ACS).
FDA itself has stated a comprehensive end to the sale of menthol cigarettes could result in 324,000 to 654,000 fewer deaths, said a statement from Karen E. Knudsen, CEO of ACS and its Cancer Action Network.
“Americans have already waited far too long for our leaders to take action to end the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars given FDA has had the authority to do so for 14 years,” Knudsen said in a published statement. “The White House’s continued delay in finalizing these rules only benefits the tobacco industry at the expense of public health by allowing the continuation of aggressive marketing tactics of these deadly products to our youth, Black communities and many more.”
The American Heart Association (AHA) also cited the federal estimates, which last over the next 40 years, and noted the dangers of smoking flavored cigars. Last month, AHA joined with 79 other national groups to demand strong final rules in a full-page advertisement in the Washington Post.
“The administration is delaying a landmark moment that would stop the sale of these addictive products that for decades have increased tobacco use and smoking-related illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease and cancer,” AHA Chief Executive Nancy Brown said in a statement. “Each day we wait for the final rules to be released is another day Big Tobacco will hook new users and target communities with menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars.”
The president has supported the Cancer Moonshot, a national effort toward research and treatments to end cancer. That cannot be achieved without ending the sale of menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars, said American Lung Association (ALA) President and CEO Harold Wimmer.
“In the last few weeks, the tobacco industry has increased pressure on the White House to delay or stop the advancement of these rules,” Wimmer said in a statement. “The tobacco industry will do anything to protect their profits at the expense of public health. The White House should not fall to the tobacco lobby’s campaign to spread false narratives. Delaying the promulgation of these rules will result in more death and disease from tobacco use.”
It appears the next regulatory steps could happen in March next year, according to ALA.